Over a hundred artisans benefit from the social enterprise that is Gifts and Graces, a fair trade foundation that supports marginalized communities across the Philippines. “We partner with underprivileged communities, mostly women, to unleash their potential through authentic, thoughtful design,” Joanna Duarte explains.
Undeniably, the talent for crafts is abundant in the local scene, but there also proves to be a saturated market for the simple Filipino artisan. This is where Gifts and Graces comes in.
With the help of Gifts and Graces, these local products are not just introduced to a bigger audience, but are also developed to match the standards and demands of a highly competitive retail industry. “We work with communities that have a skill, and we try to improve that skill and help them with designs, so we can make their items more marketable,” says Joanna.
The concept is as refreshing as it is genius, mainly because it brings “love local” to a different level. There are no big factories or heavy machinery, no large corporation with an agenda. Gifts and Graces, to its core, is a bridge that connects the artisan to the consumer.
The foundation supports fifteen active artisan communities from across the country and produces quite a range of handcrafted items. Consumer favorites include brass products crafted by the T’bolis of Lake Sebu, retaso animals (stuffed toys made of recycled fabric) from Caloocan, hand-painted bayongs and note cards, beadwork, baskets, and home decor sourced from different parts of Manila, Rizal, and Laguna. Most, if not all, are crafted from recycled materials and then made into intricate, upscale pieces of world-class quality.
“The products are handmade, very labor intensive. So ‘pag maramihan, either it takes super long, or there’s not enough people trained to do it. So we’re trying to get the younger generation to continue [the craft],” Joanna explains.
As much progress as they have achieved, preserving the tradition of artisanship still proves to be a challenge for Gifts and Graces and its partner communities, especially with younger generations taking the corporate route through call centers and other desk jobs. She adds, “We’re trying to market it such that they realize, in the long run, they can make more money with their own business.”
Other than serving as a business platform for artisans, Gifts and Graces also provides training for their partner communities. “This year, we plan to teach them the basics of business—how to bookkeep, how to canvass, how to market, mga ganyan,” Joanna explains. “While we help them, we’re also teaching them how to fend for themselves.”
Truly, Gifts and Graces goes beyond just profitability, as it also provides communities the opportunity to preserve and develop a long-standing tradition of Filipino artisanship, all while creating a livelihood of their own.
Gifts and Graces can be found in Kultura stores nationwide, Robinson’s Department Stores, and in Mile Long Building, Makati City.
This article was first published in Explore Philippines Issue 5 | Photography by Ian Francisco